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Evaluating Nonprofit Organizations

  • Make an objective review

  • Consider a consultant for this project

Every nonprofit organization needs to evaluate its current operational environment. In order to make changes that will positively effect your nonprofit organization, you need a snapshot of your organization today. This will provide a starting point for developing strategy, implementing change and measuring results. Here are some basic questions to ask as an organization.

  • What do you do well?

  • What do you do poorly?

  • How are you viewed by donors? Previous donors?

  • How are you viewed by the constituency you serve?

  • How effective are your staff, volunteers and board members in their respective roles?

  • What motivates people to help your organization?

  • Are you wasting funds on ineffective operations or outdated technology?

  • Do you need to invest in new staff or seek other professional help?

Many other topics for evaluation can be developed for specific needs and certainly many of the answers to questions above will lead to spin-off questions. A thorough evaluation is made through a combination of personal interviews, focus groups, survey instruments and a review of materials and processes.

The key to an evaluation is that it be objective. An organization cannot evaluate itself using people who are directly involved in operations. While certainly you should evaluate yourself in the normal course of business (you are a business), even for-profit firms seek outside help to fix or avoid problems. Beyond expertise offered by outside help, someone who does not have direct interaction with your staff, board, volunteers or donors will be told information that would be withheld from someone with a personal stake in the organization.

Those who can afford to have a consultant make an evaluation should consider it. Depending on the size of the organization, an experienced professional should be able to conduct an evaluation in as little as a couple of weeks of actual time served but it may take a time frame of a month or more to gather all necessary information. For larger organizations, an evaluation can take a couple months or longer, may include travel to multiple locations and can be a significant investment.

If you do choose to work with a firm or independent consultant, make sure they are registered if required in your state. With more states cracking down on fundraising firms and the charities they serve, working with a registered firm with proper insurance is critical. Have you ever asked a firm if it was registered with state agencies? You should as many are not. Some claim an exemption from registering because the type of nonprofit client they serve is not required to register. This is not true in most states and besides, if the registration is intended to protect charities and citizens of the state from unfair business practices, why wouldn't they be willing to register? It should raise a red flag if a consultant who is hired to help you avoid mistakes is unaware of or chooses to ignore laws in your state.

A consultant is just one option as other objective views are available. Exchanging a key staff member with another nonprofit organization for a week is one way to barter for an objective view. This cooperative process can give insight to each organization but it can be awkward to give full access to information to people who may compete for some of the same funding sources.

Don't sit back and think that things will get better in terms of the economy, donor interest, program growth or job satisfaction. If they do, great, but help yourself and your organization by taking action. The most important thing is to do something to identify the areas where you may need to make changes in order to be more successful in providing service, raising funds, retaining staff and volunteers and becoming better known for your work throughout the communities you serve. When you have made and evaluation, start planning your strategy to improve.

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